This is one of those weird places where my immediate reaction — why do I need to rip a perfectly good tree out of the ground to celebrate a national holiday — is not necessarily the one with which I end up after doing further research.
Every year around this time, I am saddened by the appearance of tree yards, full of perfectly healthy little trees that have been cut down so they can spend a month in someone’s living room and then be tossed out with the trash. Now, I am aware that trees do not feel pain, and it can’t be argued that tree farms are cruel to the trees — it just seems like a waste to me. When I began doing research on the subject I was prepared to find environmental groups going bonkers about how the tree farms take up animal habitat, cover the world in pesticides, and produce x percent of “waste” trees which clog up landfills. And, indeed, I found those articles, or at least the ones about pesticides. Tree farms actually provide animal habitat, and “waste” trees (as well as “used” trees after the holidays) are taken care of via “treecycling” programs, which appear to recycle about 94% of all trees used in the US. Impressive!
Instead of a lot of vitriol about tearing down forests and destroying the environment for holiday ornaments, I found this interesting little article from National Geographic explaining why living trees overall use a smaller carbon/water footprint, are biodegradable and can be used to create mulch and/or animal habitat, are not made of non-renewable petroleum products like artificial trees, and how the living tree farms support 100,000 American workers. This article from the New York Times also points out that the tree farms produce oxygen while they grow, provide animal habitat, and help fix carbon in the soil. They also provide an alternative crop for farms having difficulty raising other crops on their land. Both seem to be referring to this 2009 study by Ellipsos, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal, Canada, which concluded that, unless the fake tree was re-used for more than ten years, the real tree was generally the better environmental choice.
Overall, the worst option seems to be the imported (i.e., the cheap) artificial tree, which is made with non-renewable petroleum byproducts in factories that burn fossil fuels for power, and can be contaminated with lead. The best, or at least the most eco-friendly, option appears to be either to decorate a tree which is already living in your front yard or to purchase a “balled” or potted living tree which can be replanted after the holiday (now there’s a great idea for a tradition). In the middle, the real tree seems to have edged out the fake, despite my immediate reaction of Why should I kill a tree for this holiday?
Hmm! Live and learn!